The 2018 WRC season opener is Rallye Monte Carlo like traditionally. This year’s route has a similar structure from last year, no super specials, but an opening day of two night stages on Thursday. Let’s have a look at the similarities and differences to last year’s route and where the action happened last year.
The first stage of the 2018 season is not just any stage, but the legendary Sisteron stage, or Thoard – Sisteron to be exact. It was last driven from 2013 to 2016 but in the opposite direction. It’s also the longest stage of the rally at 36 km.
The second stage of Thursday night stages is again Bayons-Breziers. It’s also repeated at the end of Saturday like last year, which is when and where Thierry Neuville broke the rear suspension of his Hyundai.
On Friday the opening stage Vitrolles – Oze is the same as Lardier-et-Valença – Oze from last year, shortened a few kms from the start. Roussieux – Eygalayes has a bit in the beginning driven as a part of Orpierre – St. André de Rosans in 2014, whereas the ending is the same as Montauban sur l’Ouvèze – Eygalayes from 2012. The very start and the bit between the two borrowed sections seems not to have been driven before, at least in the latest years. The third stage of the day, Vaumeilh – Claret is also a new one.
Saturday’s opener Agnières-en-Dévoluy-Corps has a new ending, actually almost half of the stage. The corner where Ogier and Evans went into the ditch in 2017 should be still included in the stage.
The second stage Saint-Léger-les-Mélèzes – La Bâtie-Neuve has just a slightly different beginning for the first 250 metres. This was the stage that ended Juho Hänninen’s rally by a collision with a tree in a hairpin that was treacherous to many other drivers as well.
Sunday has again two stages driven twice. Last year’s power stage La Bollène-Vésubie – Peïra Cava containing the legendary Col de Turini part is shortened by 3 kms from the end. The new power stage La Cabanette – Col de Braus is the last 13 kms of Col de Braus – La Bollène-Vésubie from 2009, also most of it was driven as Col de l’Orme – St Laurent in 2016.
Like always, the weather should be an unpredictable combination of dry and wet tarmac, ice and snow, sometimes all of them on one stage. It’s hard to tell which stages will be crucial, but I’m looking forward to the opening Sisteron in the darkness, with everyone having a clean table, some even new cars. Who’s gonna come out fastest and be the first rally leader of 2018?